ThinkPad X1 Carbon -- Able MacBook Air competitor (review)

ThinkPad X1 Carbon -- Able MacBook Air competitor (review)

Summary: Lenovo spared no expense making the ThinkPad X1 Carbon a real mobile workhorse. From the 14-inch IPS display to the 256GB SSD in this review unit, the X1 Carbon is a road warrior's delight. It doesn't hurt it has the best trackpad the reviewer has ever seen on a Windows laptop.

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TOPICS: Laptops, Lenovo, Reviews, PCs
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10 X1 open in coffee shop

The ThinkPad line has a deserved good reputation with road warriors and the latest model is sure to delight that group. Lenovo fit a 14-inch high-res (1600x900) display in the chassis thin enough to compare favorably with the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Testing has shown the ThinkPad X1 Carbon to be the best Windows laptop I have used, from the thin (0.7 inch) and light (3 lbs.) profile to the high-performance Intel Core i7 processor. The processor is coupled with a 256GB SSD to make operation as speedy as any laptop in the lab. Even packing a punch the X1 Carbon has run quiet and cool.

Check out the photo gallery of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook

Hardware specifications as tested:

  • Processor: Third generation Intel Core i7 (2.0 GHz)
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Storage: 256 GB SSD
  • Display: 14-inch IPS wide angle viewing (1600x900)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000
  • Ports: 1-USB 2.0, 1-USB 3.0, Mini-DisplayPort, 4-in-1 multi-card slot
  • Battery: 4-cell, 45 Wh (6+ hours)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: 720p webcam
  • OS: Windows 7 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 13.03 x 8.9 x 0.74 inches, 2.998 pounds

The X1 Carbon is only 0.7 inches at its thickest with a slight wedge form tapering to the front. The 3 pound weight is possible without sacrificing durability due to the carbon fiber construction by Lenovo (thus the name). It has the typical black grippy ThinkPad covering top and bottom, and is easy (and secure) to carry in the hand.

A few things set this laptop apart from the crowd, not the least of which is the 14-inch IPS matte display which is viewable from wide angles. Lenovo used a small bezel to fit the 14-inch display in the chassis the size of normal 13-inch screens, making the X1 Carbon a no-compromise mobile computer.

The thin profile did cause Lenovo to leave out a wired Ethernet port, instead including a USB dongle in the box. As is common with thin laptops like this, there is no optical drive.

ThinkPads have a good reputation for keyboard quality, and the one on the X1 Carbon does not disappoint. The chiclet keys have a nice feel and good tactile feedback, and Lenovo has employed a unique key shape designed to minimize typing errors. In my testing this design is a success, as fast touch typing is possible without undue typing mistakes. The keyboard is backlit, with two brightness settings available.

Windows laptops have a deserved poor reputation for trackpads compared to the Apple line, but that comes to an end with the X1 Carbon. The oversized glass buttonless trackpad is better than any Windows model I have tested. It is a full multitouch solution with user configuration to make it work the way the user prefers. This trackpad is a joy to use.

Joanna Stern of ABC News asked me if the X1 Carbon trackpad is as good as the one on the MacBook Air? The answer to that is almost. It's pretty darn close as a matter of fact, which is good enough for me.

This is a ThinkPad, so those preferring the little red trackpoint will find it where it should be. There are also three large mouse buttons between the keyboard and the trackpad for those who prefer them.

The battery is not user replaceable as is common for ultrathin laptops. In my testing the 45 Wh battery in the X1 Carbon provided six hours with simple power management. The notebook has the excellent ThinkPad power managment utility installed, and it should be possible to get 7 hours with proper control of the power usage.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is available from Lenovo starting from $1,399 ($1,849 as reviewed). There are a number of options to configure the system meeting individual needs and the price required. The standard ThinkPad warranty of three years is included with purchase.

The following configurations (all with 4GB of memory) are available for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon:

  • Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7 GHz), 128GB SSD, $1,399
  • Intel Core i5-3427U (1.8 GHz), 128GB SSD, $1,499
  • Intel Core i5-3427U (1.8 GHz), 256GB SSD, $1,649
  • Intel Core i7-3667U (2.0 GHz), 256GB SSD, $1,849

Does the ThinkPad X1 Carbon compare to the MacBook Air? Yes, more than any other Windows notebook I have tested. Is it worth the price? Yes, and this reviewer wants one.

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Topics: Laptops, Lenovo, Reviews, PCs

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43 comments
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  • Although the MacBook Pro (with Retina display) is not in the same class as

    this excellent Lenovo ultra thin laptop, I do have a question about keyboard feel.

    In my brief exposure to the Apple product, I was most impressed with the feel of the MBP's keyboard. Now, I have used Lenovo laptops in the past (but not recently) and I do remember their keyboards as world class. (Hey .. they were IBM keyboards at one time. Grin)

    My question is, if you have experience with the MBP (with Retina display) laptop, how does the Levovo keyboard compare. (And yes, James, I understand .. as should everyone else .. that keyboard feel is a highly subjective opinion.)
    kenosha77a
    • Lenovo Keyboard

      Google for LaptopMag ThinkPad Type-Off. They did a very nice comparison of the new keyboard vs the "old" one.
      dvm
    • Just as good

      IMHO this keyboard is just as good as that on the MBA. I typed all day like a banshee.
      JamesKendrick
      • IPS?

        Are you sure this an IPS? Some reporting that it's just very good TN panel? Did lenovo say so?
        2fast4u2
        • Of course

          I reported it is IPS because Lenovo told me it was.
          JamesKendrick
          • IPS?

            This image shows non IPS viewing angles http://www.notebookreview.com/assets/66402.jpg
            I would said the only way to make sure - is to do same test on your X1C. See if it really distort on vertical tilt.
            demon_xxi
  • Are those list prices?

    Are the prices you are listing the list price Lenovo supplied?
    Keith_Combs
    • Lenovo pricing

      Of course it's Lenovo pricing and why it's quoted. I suspect in time that will come down.
      JamesKendrick
  • IPS Screen

    That's great news about the trackpad! I've been waiting for this one for months. Now I work in the web/graphic design field and a good display is key for me. I've seen so many mixed reviews about the display on this one being an above average TN panel or IPS. I started getting the impression it wasn't an IPS since Lenovo hasn't been mentioning it at all. Are you sure it's IPS?

    Thanks!
    urbanglowcam
    • exactly same question

      I would like to know exactly the same thing...
      2fast4u2
    • YES

      I reported that it is IPS because Lenovo specifically told me it was. I can't help what other reviewers are saying about it. The display, as I said, is gorgeous.
      JamesKendrick
      • great

        thank you, you're awesome!
        2fast4u2
  • Windows 8

    Would be nice to install Windows 8 in it to see how it performs. BTW, does the trackpad supports multitouch in Windows 8?
    dvm
    • Windows 8 gestures

      My real question is how good is the trackpad with Windows 8 multitouch gestures.

      BTW, any plans to have the option to edit posts?
      dvm
    • Windows 8 gestures

      Find the answer in AllThingsD, it supports W8 multitouch gestures.
      dvm
  • display hinge

    One thing that concerns me is the hinge design. It looks like the display will only open so far before the display hits the table. all of the pictures show the screen opened at about a 90 deg angle. There are feet under the bottom, but I wonder how far open you can lift the screen before it hits the table. Did you notice any issues with the hinge?
    thinkpaddyusr1
    • Hinge

      I've heard the screen opens to ALMOST 180 degrees. Maybe that was done to prevent from rubbing, but I haven't heard of that issue until now. Thinkpads have been doing this for years so I'm sure they did it right.
      urbanglowcam
      • hinge

        The screen is open near 180 degrees in one of the pics, but obviously the screen is hitting the table at that point. I'm just curious how far open the screen gets (how many degrees) before it hits the table.
        thinkpaddyusr1
    • 180 degrees

      You can open the lid until it's flat on the tablet behind the keyboard.
      JamesKendrick
  • RAM

    James, are there any news on max RAM on X1C.
    There was info on 8GB ram but only on i5 model. Any chance to get i7 with 8GB ?
    demon_xxi